Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 January 2013 / 29 Tevet 5773

Parshat Vaera

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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G-d tells Moshe to inform the Jewish People that He is going to take them out of Egypt. However, the Jewish People do not listen. G-d commands Moshe to go to Pharaoh and ask him to free the Jewish People. Although Aharon shows Pharaoh a sign by turning a staff into a snake, Pharaoh's magicians copy the sign, emboldening Pharaoh to refuse the request. G-d punishes the Egyptians and sends plagues of blood and frogs, but the magicians copy these miracles on a smaller scale, again encouraging Pharaoh to be obstinate. After the plague of lice, Pharaoh's magicians concede that only G-d could be performing these miracles. Only the Egyptians, and not the Jews in Goshen, suffer during the plagues. The onslaught continues with wild animals, pestilence, boils and fiery hail. However, despite Moshe's offers to end the plagues if Pharaoh will let the Jewish People leave, Pharaoh continues to harden his heart and refuses.


Name Calling

“…but with My Name ‘Hashem’ I did not make Myself known to them…” (6:3)

I write this less than a month after the passing of our beloved Rosh Yeshiva Rav Mendel Weinbach, zatzal.

Of all the qualities that distinguished Rav Mendel none was stronger than his mesirut nefesh – self-sacrifice – for his students and his staff.

A case in point. Rabbi Mordechai Perlman relates that during the difficult birth of one of his children, Rav Mendel came to visit him in the hospital in the early hours of the morning. He saw that Rabbi Perlman was saying Tehillim in a desperate fashion. Rav Mendel said to him, "Mordechai, did you have breakfast yet?" Rabbi Perlman replied in the negative. Rav Mendel said, "Go and get some breakfast. You're saying Tehillim out of desperation – and that's not good. You go and get some breakfast and I'll carry on with the Tehillim." And so he did, until a beautiful new life entered the world.

A member of the Ohr Somayach staff could not get his daughter into one of the 'Ivy League' girls' schools in Jerusalem because they had no family or contacts to vouch for them. Despite numerous phone calls and the passing of months, the girl still had no school. The beginning of the semester came and went. Two days into the semester the girl was still sitting at home, sinking not-too-slowly into depression. On the morning of the third day, Rav Mendel appeared at the family's home and said to the girl, "Come, let's go to school." Together they went to the school that had rejected her and Rav Mendel sat her down in the classroom and proceeded to sit in the chair next to her and would not leave until the school agreed to take her.

Moshe Rabbeinu had ten names: Moshe, Yered, Chaver, Yekutiel, Avigdor, Avi Socho, Avi Zanuach, Tuvia, Shemaya, and Halevi. Of all these names the only one that G-d used was Moshe, the name he was given by Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya.

Why, of all Moshe’s names, did G-d use the one name given to Moshe by an Egyptian princess? What was so special about this name?

The name Moshe comes from the word meaning ‘to be drawn’, for Moshe was drawn from the water by Batya. When Batya took Moshe out of the river she was flouting her father’s will. Pharaoh’s order was to kill all the Jewish male babies to stifle their savior. By rescuing Moshe, Batya was putting her life in grave danger. Because Batya risked her life to save Moshe, that quality was embedded in Moshe’s personality and in his soul. It was this quality of self-sacrifice that typified Moshe more than all his other qualities, and for this reason Moshe was the only name that G-d would call him.

This is what made Moshe the quintessential leader of the Jewish People. For more than any other trait, a leader of the Jewish People needs self-sacrifice to care and worry over each one of his flock.

Another question – but with the same answer:

Of all the places that Moshe’s mother, Yocheved, could have chosen to hide Moshe, why did she choose the river? Why not in a tunnel? Why not hide him in a barn, or any of the other numerous possible hiding places? Why did Yocheved choose to hide Moshe in the river?

Yocheved hoped that by putting Moshe into the river, the astrological signs would show that the savior of the Jews had been cast into the Nile, and Pharaoh would abandon the massacre of the baby boys. Yocheved was right. The Egyptian astrologers told Pharaoh the Jewish savior had been dispatched into the Nileand Pharaoh ordered the killing of the first born male children to cease.

It was not an easy thing for Yocheved to put her son into a wicker basket and abandon him to the eddies of the Nile. Before she placed Moshe into the water, Yocheved made a little canopy over the basket and said in sadness, “Who knows if I will ever see my son’s ‘chupa’ (marriage canopy)?” Certainly there were safer places for a baby than a makeshift basket adrift in a river.

However, Yocheved chose a hiding place that may have not been the safest because it meant that she could save the lives of other Jewish children.

From two sides of the same event the quality of self-sacrifice was instilled into Moshe. By his real mother when she put him into the river, and also by his adopted mother when she drew him out from the river. If any quality epitomizes the essence of leadership, it is the ability to forget oneself and give up everything for the good of the people.

And so it was with Rav Mendel, zatzal.

  • Based on the Midrash Shemot Rabba 1:24, 1:29; Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, Rabbi C. Z. Senter

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